Fans are the focus at Phoenix's 16th hole

By Jason SobelFebruary 2, 2014, 1:32 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Ryan Palmer knocked his tee shot to within 13 feet of the cup on the infamous 16th hole here at TPC Scottsdale on Saturday, then made a beeline for the rowdy fans sitting just left of the entrance.

Like so many other players, he’d decided to stay in their good graces by tossing gifts into the stands. Like no other players, he opted for something each of them could use.

Cold, hard cash.

“I don’t know why, I just thought it would be pretty cool to tell them to go have a beer on me,” said Palmer, who threw $100 to the crazed fans. “Everyone was just screaming and grabbing. With the wind, it kept blowing back at me, so I couldn’t get it all the way up there. I handed some to a few people. It’s one of those deals where you try to think of something clever.”

An hour later, fan Stuart Parnell was still raving about the gesture. “I got 40 bucks!” he crowed.

Video: Lefty goes righty for football tosses

If the 16th hole is a study in the sociology of spectators, the idea can similarly be applied to competitors. In a game where personalities aren’t often displayed inside the ropes, it’s one time when they’re actually encouraged.

When Scott Langley safely found the green during the third round, he pumped his fist and pointed toward the boisterous fans. When J.B. Holmes nestled one to a similar distance in the same group, he barely displayed any expression.

Phil Mickelson stepped to the tee with his usual grin and trademark thumbs-up toward the gallery. When he missed the green left, the fan favorite motioned to the masses that he was well deserving of being booed.

It didn’t last, though. Within seconds, he was firing footballs into the stands – righty – with some pretty tight spirals.

“I think it's the last time I'm going to do that, because mentally I was thinking about throwing it a couple holes prior,” he admitted. “It took me out of my element. I hit the worst shot imaginable on that 16th hole.”

Not everyone was thrown off. Roberto Castro has long been serenaded with chants of “FIDEL!” at the 16th. So this time, he jogged over to the fans and produced a box labeled “Fidel’s Finest” then tossed cigars into the crowd.

Some of ’em even got a gift in return. When Ryan Moore followed a par by tossing his golf ball to a fan in a Seahawks jersey, the favor was returned as a few Seahawks pins rained down on him from above.

Not every gift was a tangible item, though.

In light of the PGA Tour’s decree that caddie races are banished this year, a trio of players bent the rules without breaking ‘em. Kevin Na, John Merrick and Brendan Steele picked up their own bags and raced with them.

“It was Kevin Na’s idea and we just wanted it to be funny,” Steele later said. “But once we got close to the green, we couldn’t help going into a sprint.”

In addition to posting a tidy little 9-under 62, he also won the race in a near-dead heat.

Cade Fredrickson didn’t need a photo finish. The 12-year-old was serving as a standard-bearer and raced his father, Rob, a member of the Thunderbirds, to the 16th green. The son dusted his dad so easily that he jogged the final 10 yards backwards.

He walked off with a big smile on his face, but emotions were often mixed on this day. Seven holes earlier, Hunter Mahan was told by a fan that if he made a putt he’d get half of the outside-the-ropes wager. When he holed it, he gave the Johnny Manziel money motion, then mirrored it after a birdie on 16. Meanwhile, Y.E. Yang suffered embarrassment in front of the game’s biggest gallery, hitting a putt into a bunker en route to posting triple bogey.

The 15,000 spectators on the hole come with varying degrees of golf pedigrees, but plenty of ’em know their stuff. Upon seeing caddies walk off yardage or discuss club selection, Mike Leonard would yell, “Give him the gap wedge! It’s 128 yards!”

Never mind that the hole was playing 131. It sounded good.

Not every yell was helpful, though. When Vijay Singh, who is involved with a messy lawsuit against the PGA Tour over alleged use of deer-antler spray, stepped into the arena, they chanted, “A-ROD! A-ROD!” When Matt Every walked in, they sang, “Puff the Magic Dragon … in Iowa …” a not-so-thinly-veiled reference to his arrest on marijuana possession there four years ago.

Yes, there was a little bit of everything at the 16th hole Saturday. As for Palmer, who became the first player to throw cash, he might have established a dangerous precedent for himself.

“I’ll have to make it a ritual there,” he said. “But I’ll just bring a bunch of ones next time.”

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Fleetwood fires 63, waits to see if score is enough

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 8:52 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Tommy Fleetwood became the sixth player to shoot 63 at the U.S. Open, and just the second to do it in the final round. Now he waits.

Fleetwood teed off almost 2 ½ hours before – and six strokes behind – the leaders at Shinnecock Hills on Sunday, but stormed into the hunt thanks to four consecutive birdies starting at the 12th hole. The Englishman’s round was even more impressive considering he didn’t birdie either of the layout’s par 5s.

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Fleetwood finished at 2 over par – after missing a 9-foot putt for birdie and 62 at the 18th – which was tied for second place and one stroke off the lead held by Brooks Koepka when he completed his round.

After speaking with the media, Fleetwood went to the locker room to await a possible playoff, which was changed this year from an 18-hole overtime to just two holes of aggregate play.

“We'll go and relax a little bit and just see,” said Fleetwood, who rolled in 159 feet of birdies putts. “Only time will tell what's going to happen today at the course. If it was like yesterday, I'd feel a little more comfortable than now.”

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Fowler follows 84 with 65, praises Shinnecock setup

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2018, 5:44 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – As promised, the USGA dialed back Shinnecock Hills for Sunday’s final round, watering the greens overnight and deferring to more user-friendly hole locations.

The evidence of this was on the leaderboard, with four early finishers having shot under-par rounds, including Rickie Fowler, who closed with a round-of-the-week 65. There were just three under-par cards on Saturday.

“That's the golf course I enjoy playing. Obviously, pin placements were a lot safer,” said Fowler, who had just one bogey on Sunday and opened his day with a 4-under 31 on his opening nine. “The pins today will definitely allow for the greens to firm up and get fast, and we'll see how much they dry out. It was definitely more receptive this morning than yesterday, that's for sure.”

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It was a 19-stroke turnaround for Fowler, who ballooned to a third-round 84 on Day 3 during what most contend were the week’s toughest conditions. Fowler had put himself into contention going into the weekend thanks to a second-round 69, but struggled on Saturday afternoon like much of the field.

Fowler said the setup was vastly different to what players faced on Saturday and that even if the winds increase for the afternoon tee times the course will remain playable, unlike Round 3 when many players said the USGA “lost” the golf course.

“They did a good job of staying safe,” Fowler said, “because if it does dry out, it will still be very playable.”

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Phil celebrates par on 13, ducks media after round

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 5:35 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – Phil Mickelson didn’t have another meltdown at the U.S. Open.

Back on the 13th green Sunday – less than 24 hours after taking a two-shot penalty for hitting a moving ball and recording a sextuple-bogey 10 – Mickelson poured in a 10-footer and raised his arms in mock triumph, as if he’d finally won that elusive major title.

Not quite.

He’d simply made par.

“It looked like he won the Masters,” said playing partner Rickie Fowler. “He didn’t jump, but he had a little celebration there.”

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The par save and the final-round 69 were one of the lone bright spots during what was an adventurous week for Lefty, even by his unpredictable standards. Mickelson’s shocking swat was still the talk of this Open, especially after USGA executive director Mike Davis revealed Saturday night that Mickelson had called him to ask for more clarification on the rule he said that he knew he’d broken.

Despite some calls for him to withdraw from the tournament, Mickelson displayed his usual cheerful demeanor inside the ropes with Fowler.

“He joked about it right as we went down the first hole,” Fowler said.

Fowler said that he didn’t know “if I would have had the wits like Phil to run after it” on 13, but added that it never should have come to that in the first place.

“He could have saved himself a shot by just letting it go and taking unplayable, but then that would still look pretty funny too,” he said. “The course shouldn’t play that way.”

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

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USGA slows greens, alters hole locations for Sunday

By Ryan LavnerJune 17, 2018, 3:29 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – After admitting that it went too far with the setup Saturday at the U.S. Open, USGA officials made some modifications for the final round.

In a statement released Sunday morning, the USGA said that it watered Shinnecock Hills’ greens an “appropriate level” and slowed down the surfaces nearly a foot on the Stimpmeter.

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That was in anticipation of a sunny, dry forecast that calls for temperatures to reach 80 degrees and wind gusts up to 20 mph.

They said the setup for the final day is similar to what was used in Round 1, when officials braced for 30-mph winds.

Some of the hole locations were also adjusted based on the forecast – changes, the USGA said, that were meant to “maintain a challenge yet fair U.S. Open test.”